Many interpret the biblical doctrine of predestination as a distant and impersonal Being in the sky who, in essence, plays the lotto with humanities’ souls; electing a select few for eternal bliss and pleasure forevermore while condemning the rest to eternal darkness, torture, and misery ever after complete with scorching flames and the gnashing of teeth. This simply isn’t the case. The doctrine of predestination is much, much bigger than that.
Rewind back to when Abram, later named Abraham, was chosen in Genesis 12. Was Abraham the Chosen One or was he simply chosen to bless the world by being the conduit through which the Chosen One would be revealed? How about Isaac, was he the Elected One or was he simply elected by God to reveal He who has been Elected? Was Jacob the Chosen One or was he simply picked by God to be the one who “birthed” the nation of Israel who would later reveal the Anointed One? I could go on but I think you get the idea.
My point is this: Predestination is not about us, but rather about Jesus. He is the Chosen One—Jesus has been eternally elected.
Where are people finding the foundation for the theory that God only chooses to save a few? Is it really in the Bible? Does God really play a child’s game of duck-duck-goose with the eternal souls of humanity, the souls He created Himself? Ephesians 1:4-5 is the passage most often fired first in this debate in defense of this view of Salvation.
“…even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love he predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ…” [ESV]
There are a handful of important things to see in these two verses. However, before we can sort through them we need to understand a couple of things. Scripture did not originally have verse numbers, chapters, or even paragraph headings. The dividing up of an epistle, Gospel account, or historical narrative in Scripture is a relatively new idea in Christendom having only been in existence for roughly 800 years. Another helpful bit of information is realizing that when Paul was penning his letters to the churches, he did not use punctuation or spacing. Yes, you read that right. Paul’s introduction to the church in Ephesus would have looked like this:
Just like you can read that without any real hangups, so too would the first century Christian who read aloud the apostles’ letters before the church body. As time passed punctuation was added, though it was not always there. The same is said in regards to chapter breaks, and verse numbers; these were added to aid in finding specific truths and statements in Scripture. It’s easier to point someone to John 15:9 rather than attempting to point it out in a letter the length of a novella. Lastly, paragraph headings came around in order to help the reader gain a general idea of what the following passage was about. While those three additions are incredibly helpful, I’m afraid they have produced more harm than good.
There was still a very present understanding of grammar in the first century, so the reader would have recognized transitional words and phrases and understood the flow of the apostle’s letter. This brings us to the final preliminary point: Verses 3 through 14 in Ephesians’ first chapter is all one longwinded thought. Paul, while meditating on God’s goodness inherent in His destiny for mankind, became flabbergasted in ecstatic joy resulting in what is in essence divine word vomit. Delicious.
I preface with all of that to say one obvious yet seemingly inconsequential sentence: The substance of a thought is ultimately rooted in the context of the greater idea. Since Ephesians 1:3-14 is one continuous thought, the fourth and fifth verse cannot be removed from the matrix in which they were intentionally placed. To do so would result in the error known as proof-texting, or the removal of a thought from its context using it as proof for a point not in line with the original thought’s intent. It is imperative to understand that the substance of 1:4-5 is devastatingly dwarfed and mutated when removed from its idea revealed in verses 9 and 10. It is in verses 9 and 10 that Paul decides to provide the foundation for his words on election:
“making known to us the mystery of his will, according to his purpose, which he set forth in Christ as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth.” [ESV]
What was the purpose for God choosing you? Was it simply to secure your eternal destiny, or was it for something with a wider scope? It was nothing less than having all things united in Christ! Just like sin and death came to all through one man, so too will all men be made alive through Christ (Romans 5:12, First Corinthians 15:22). God is not playing a game of duck-duck-goose. He is not walking down your street pointing at houses while saying yes to few, and no to the majority. What of those in unknown/unreached regions? He is most certainly not saying, “Well, if you can get to them…” He was on a mission to unite all of creation. His goal, which he indefinitely accomplished, was to unite all things in Himself. Take note where the recipients of Paul’s letter to Ephesus were chosen before the foundation of the world. They were predestined to be united in Him. And to where were all things united? Things in heaven and things on earth? According to His purpose, which He set forth in Christ as a plan for the fullness of time? Paul states it all was united in [Jesus]. All means all, and God has revealed that all things have been united in Him. Paul words this same Gospel differently in Second Corinthians 5:18-19:
“And all these things are from God who reconciled us to himself through Christ, and who has given us the ministry of reconciliation. In other words, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting people’s trespasses against them, and he has given us the message of reconciliation.” [NET]
“In other words” (Gk. hoti) is a conjunction used for clarifying or expanding on a single thought. In this instance, Paul used it to clarify to the Corinthian church what God was doing through Christ, namely reconciling the world to Himself. Paul defines reconciliation as not counting one’s trespasses against them. Whose trespasses did God not count against them? To show the magnitude of the power of the cross and the love of God, Paul chose the word cosmos to reveal the nature of the Father’s heart. Cosmos (G2889) is a peculiarly expansive word, but let it suffice to say that a succinct and holistic definition would be “a harmonious arrangement of order.” Or, in other words, the universe.
This is the Gospel: God, in Christ, reconciled the Universe—the harmonious arrangement of all created things—back to Himself. God did not count the trespasses of all created order against them! This is Good News! God is not a failure—He actually accomplished what He set out to do while hanging on the cross!
Though we are definitely the recipient of its riches and grace, salvation was never about what mankind can do. Salvation has always been God’s. After all, is it not God who is the Author and Finisher of our faith (Hebrews 12:2)? First God authored salvation, then in one sweeping blow to the Kingdom of Darkness, He finished it. Salvation and predestination centers around what God has done, not humanity (Ephesians 2:8-9, 13, 17; Colossians 1:19-20).
Let it suffice to say that God has taken care of the heavy lifting. We all have been united in Him. Therefore evangelism, which is the sharing of the Good News of God’s astounding accomplishment, is merely revealing to the world that God has already fixed the problem and has patented a cure for the ailment plaguing mankind. God has reconciled all of humanity back to Himself in Christ! Jesus is, like Adam was, a representative of humanity, and as a result of His finished work we’ve all been reconciled to our Daddy. Rest in this good news today—He’s invited you to (Matthew 11:28-30).